Q: Like most everyone, I am disappointed by the lack of ovals on the 2021 schedule. I live in Kansas City, which is a short drive to Iowa Speedway and just a bit longer to Gateway. I have attended both on multiple occasions. I attended Nashville oval several times, Atlanta once, Homestead several times, Chicago, Kansas, and Texas. So I think I did my part to support ovals. Is there flexibility in the schedule in 2021 to allow an oval or two to come in at a later date prior to the season? The 2021 schedule hit early this year, which I think was a necessity so teams could get a start on sponsor shopping.
Is there something in the sanctioning fee and other financials that just makes ovals not work? Eddie Gossage has always stayed ahead of the curve by trying crazy stuff. Perhaps it is time for the IndyCar brain trust to try crazy stuff, like say, Saturday night races, Friday night qualifiers for the Saturday night race. Up and coming entertainment acts doing a show after the race, IndyCar drivers swapping cars and running WoO or Silver Crown, perhaps get the aero package back to the point where there are 60-plus lead changes among 12 cars… hell, anything to make the ovals interesting and fun for fans that may be seeing their first race, or are just causal fans at best, walk away saying, ‘that was freaking awesome’.
Troay Strong, Kansas City, MO
RM: Don’t see any ovals being added for 2021, but with Iowa, Kentucky and Chicago in limbo it’s possible one of them could find their way back onto a future schedule. All your suggestions sound great, but who is going to pay for them?
Q: I give you credit for having to deal with the complaining each week about “why no ovals?” or “why is this track not on the schedule?” etc., etc. The brass tacks are simple: because no-one is spending the money to put their butt in the seat. A simple rule of business is if they have to beat people away with a stick because the demand is so high, no one will walk away or change that cash cow. Complainer: if there are less ovals, it’s because you didn’t go and spend your dollars. It’s on you. Not Roger, Not IndyCar. Not NASCAR. Not your local dirt track. If it’s out of business, it’s because you didn’t give it business.
RM: Hard to disagree, Tracey. Those three years at Phoenix were so distressing, along with the last couple at Fontana, and Iowa kept changing dates and losing fans. Just look at photos of MIS, Milwaukee and Phoenix in 1995 and ask yourself: “where did everyone go?”
Q: I think we all agree Gateway has been a very successful oval track. I’ve been four times, and even through the pandemic there was a great crowd. Why can’t this success be replicated at other ovals? I think John Bommarito has created a really nice experience. Ticket prices are reasonable. Kids 15 and under are free. Vintage cars are on display. Lots of food vendors (other than year one). And multiple track activities during the day/evening. Do the other venues lack vision? Do they lack the passion for the sport? Clearly Gateway is the benchmark of a successful venue. The blueprint has been made; no need to try to reinvent the wheel. Just emulate something that has already been successful, right?
Mike in Newburgh, IN
RM: I think I’ve said this repeatedly: Gateway has a gung-ho owner in Curtis Francois, a gung-ho title sponsor in Bommarito, a smart GM in Chris Blair that understands today’s racing landscape and a first-class PR man in John Bisci. That’s the perfect storm as far as putting on an oval race, and to answer your question, I’ll give you an example of the direct opposite. Pocono didn’t promote IndyCar and didn’t lift a finger to make the fan experience enjoyable. Throw out a few vintage cars and the two-seater, and hope for the best. Gateway is the template for making today’s fan want to drive to St. Louis and spend the day. Unfortunately, IndyCar can’t rent them to go to another oval.
Q: The reason IndyCar can’t draw crowds for ovals is simple: they don’t provide enough bang for your buck as paying customers. With a typical oval race, there is one 90-minute to two-hour race per day on the schedule. That’s it. The tracks are often in the middle of nowhere, and once you’re in, you’re in. You can’t leave and then come back later. There is minimal garage access or interaction with drivers because they are all in the infield, which is often a hassle to get to.
Compare this to a street race. I go to Toronto every year and it is a full festival starting 8 a.m. Friday and going until 6 p.m. every day for three days. You would have to be trying to be bored to not have something to do. You don’t go more than 20 minutes without cars on the track. Beyond that, there are a dozen or more food trucks set up, interactive displays, rides, shopping, games, family entertainment options (like kids’ go kart tracks). Additionally there are driver autograph sessions and easy fan access to the paddocks with credentials. Plus, you are downtown and can easily partake in the restaurants, attractions and the city scene at the end of the day.
For oval racing to survive, the tracks need to find a way to keep people entertained. The festival atmosphere of street races needs to be replicated to give people the same bang for their buck and to entice them to want to buy a ticket and come out for the weekend. One day with a two-hour race won’t cut it anymore. The question is, which tracks are willing to and can do this?
Ben from Toronto
RM: Gateway is the only oval offering a full day of non-stop action, and you are spot-on – the days of people showing up and sitting the grandstands for a few hours waiting on the IndyCar race are long gone. You had best entertain the paying customers, and Texas has done it through the years with rallycross, Robby Gordon’s trucks, motorcycles and Legend cars with former Indy 500 stars. But unless a track picks up the feeder system races or adds a USAC series, it’s just like you said: a lot of driving, sitting and waiting for the main event, and that does not work anymore. Road races and street circuits are successful because they offer lots of racing and plenty of options.